If only people knew as much about their computers as they know about their cars…

I have this little dream. I wish that people would know as much about their computers as they know about their cars. Our lives would be so much better then. No more dumb support calls, no more dealing with clueless lusers, no more larting.


I’m serious about this. Most people can talk about their cars using full sentences, and proper terminology (you know, like engine, gas tank, fuel gauge not thingy, whatchumacallit that that thing with the error message). For example, you can ask just about any driver out there the following questions and in most cases they will give you informed answers:

  1. what car do you drive?
  2. what’s your car’s millage?
  3. how many miles to a gallon do you get?
  4. how many gallons fit in your tank
  5. is it a 4 cylinder or 6 cylinder engine?
  6. what company made your car?
  7. what kind of engine oil and/or break fuel do you recommend?

It doesn’t really matter if the person is a mechanic, race car driver, trucker, commuter or a soccer mom. Most people will be able to answer at least half of these questions, even if they are not really that much “into cars”. Now let’s try a similar set of descriptive questions regarding computers:

  1. what kind of computer do you have?
  2. what is your CPU speed?
  3. how much memory do you have?
  4. how big is hour hard drive?
  5. what kind of operating system are you running?
  6. what company made your computer?
  7. what kind of anti-virus software would you recommend?

In my experience, most people can answer only one or two questions from this list of the top of their head. Why is that? The information in both cases is not all that much different. Both car and computer specs are just numbers, acronyms and brand names. I always find it funny how the same person can remember a hundred different meaningless factoids about their car, and a hundred more about their dream car, and about the car they are going to buy in 2 years if they can afford it, but never bother learning few really basic facts about their computer.

People often complain that sysadmins and IT people are arrogant and look down on the people who know less than they do. But think about this: if you asked someone what card do they drive, and their answer was: “Um… I don’t know… How do I check that?” wouldn’t you think less of them or assume they were joking?

When you call a car mechanic you kinda expect them to ask you about the make of your car, year of production, millage and etc. You also don’t just tell them that you saw a blinking like on the dashboard and forgot to write down what it said. But when people call tech support, they seem to expect that we magically guess what kind of machine they have, what kind of operating system they run, and what error did they get 3 days ago. Sigh…

The crux of the problem is this: it is generally not socially acceptable to be completely clueless about cars. However it seems to be perfectly acceptable to be clueless about computers and electronics, to the point that people like to brag about their incompetence. For some reason people think that it is kinda cute not to understand the tools they use to do their job every single day…

Update 03/21/2007 04:54:48 PM

Btw, this topic started as a comment on the Twenty Sided blog, but I kinda went with it and reposted it here. :)

Update 03/23/2007 11:46:42 AM

I just found this today, and I thought it was kinda related to this topic. It kinda illustrates my point by reversing the situation. (here is the original source in case /dev/random ever goes to shit)

[tags]computers, cars, clueless, lusers, lart, sysadmin, it[/tags]

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38 Responses to If only people knew as much about their computers as they know about their cars…

  1. Teague UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    (discussion moved here from Shamus’ blog)


    You magnificent bast@#d! I read your blog! :)

    Seriously, though, thanks for not taking me too seriously. After all, I’m just a game geek who only knows enough about computers to do some serious damage to my Uncle’s before I admitted I really didn’t know what the heck I was doing.

    I agree that there is a socio-psychological problem involed. It’s about the image, and that sucks in a lot of ways. There is a silver lining, though. Job security, and the chance to be the “go-to” guy when everything is falling apart can be pretty cool, too.

    FWIW, I think josh has a good point (in Shamus’ blog) about your specific questions, though.

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  2. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Hey, welcome! I hope you stop by to comment more often. :)

    And yep, he does make some good points. I already responded to him in that thread.

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  3. Teague UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Too funny! I used an “@” in my spelling of bastard, so now it shows up as a link on your site to email someone called “bast”! :)

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  4. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Heh… I think wordpress was trying to be helpful and create an email link. I hope Mr. Bast of #d! won’t mind. ;)

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  5. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    hehe, I read this first on the 20 sided comments and was about to post a link here to ask who stole from who :lol:

    so.. do you read DM of the Rings? Some funny stuff right there

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  6. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    DMotR is awesome. :)

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  7. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    ’tis surely awesome :D

    *(its possible in the same way as its possible that I’ll suddenly love macs, apple, ipods and everything else that’s small, white and cool by tomorrow – could happen but seems fairly unlikely)

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  8. Fr3d UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    This is so accurate it’s scary :p

    What’s more, half the people I meet can tell me 10 useless facts about their friends’ cars as well as their own, but can’t even hit 2 about their own PC’s…

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  9. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    That’s exactly what I’m talking about fr3d!

    Well, at least one person out there agrees with me on this. :)

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  10. un4scene UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    1. Dell Inspiron 9300 (says so right above the F1 & F2 keys)
    2. 1.6GHz
    3. RAM? 1gb
    4. 60GB
    5. XP Professional
    6. Dell
    7. What Lig said (Lavasoft & Spybot)
    8. And it’s now wireless! Yay!

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  11. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    un4 – I need to find an emoticon for “beaming with pride”.

    You have been taught well padawan. :mrgreen:

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  12. Craig Betts UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    Okay, I’ll take a shot . . .

    1) Hummer H3
    2) Just turned over to 13000 miles
    3) 19 on a good day, 15 when I am in a hurry.
    4) 23 gallons
    5) Neither . . . five cylinder
    6) General Motors
    7) Mid grade fuel since it guzzles it, 10W-30 oil.

    Computer (Since I own seven, it will be the one I use most)
    1) Apple MacBook
    2) 2.0 Ghz
    3) 1 Gb RAM
    4) 60 Gb
    5) MacOSX (UNIX variant)
    6) Apple Inc.
    7) Norton (if you think you need it)

    Of course, I happen to be a motorhead as well as a geek! :-D

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  13. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    This reminds me that I want a MacBook. :P

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  14. 1. what kind of computer do you have? Dell Inspieron
    2. what is your CPU speed? 2.8 and 2.9 (dual)
    3. how much memory do you have? 1 gig
    4. how big is hour hard drive? 80 (I have probably close to 10 gigs left)
    5. what kind of operating system are you running? Vista >.

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  15. Miloš UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    lol. This is so true…I haven’t laughed so hard recently.

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  16. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    1. Laptop is a Dell Inspiron 2200, desktop I built myself
    2. Laptop – 1.4GHz, desktop – 2.2GHz dual core (AMD Athlon 4200)
    3. Laptop – 512mb, desktop 1.5gb
    4. Laptop – ~60gb, minus some for Dell’s backup partition, desktop – 320gb (297 GiB but that loss is the same for any hard drive
    5. Windows XP – Home on the Laptop, Pro on the Desktop
    6. Dell made the laptop, Me inc. made the desktop (If you want I can name the hardware manufacturers who made each part)
    7. AVG, Spybot S&D, Adaware… I know plenty of commendable antiviruses (most of which are free :mrgreen:

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  17. Corvus UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I know that my car is black, has four doors and requires filling about once a week. I do know the make, model, year, tank size, tire size, and I have a rough idea of the mileage. But if you were to ask me about these things, I’d become vague and conversationally wandery and generally refuse to admit I have any such knowledge.

    Ask me what sort of computer I run, though, and you’ll be treated to a lengthy explanation of, not only my current system specs, but why I’m not pleased with my computer, what I want to do about it, what my wife’s computers are like, the fact that I run Linux exclusively, how I stumbled across Linux in the first place, which graphics software I run now, URIs of work I’ve done with free software, a cost breakdown of how much money I save annually by using open source tools, and, if you haven’t completely shut down yet, I’ll probably start nattering on about my game design studio, our plans, our philosophy and mission statement, the reason story is so important, the history of story and why historic definitions of it won’t hold up to modern media and what we can do about it.

    Honestly, am I any better than people who tell you they’re computer is running Windows 97 because their office suite is labeled thus?

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  18. Corvus UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Ah, and please note that I’m on a work PC, where I am not allowed to install Linux. That’s why the “Posted using” tag burns my eyes. Obviously I was able, at least, to install Firefox.

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  19. hdw UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I built my own computer, so I have a reasonable idea what’s in it. My car? Just got it, so I’m a little vague on some of the details. 2.8 liter 4 cylinder of some variety. About 20 mpg. A Korean company that sells cheap cars with good crash ratings.

    My truck I know much better

    8.1 liter V8
    12 mpg
    ~45,000 miles
    7,100 pounds
    8 feet wide, 22.5 feet long
    I could go on, and on, and on…

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  20. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox SuSE Linux says:

    Heh, I didn’t really expect anyone will answer these questions in the comments but this is cool. :)

    Corvus, I’m the same way. If someone would ask me what I thought about the car XYZ I would probably just shrug and try to change the topic. Ask me about some computer and I will probably be much more eloquent and informed about it.

    Still, if you are looking for an in depth comparison between the newest ATI and Nvidia graphics card, you probably got the wrong guy because I usually don’t follow these things that closely. But if I looked up the specs, I would probably be able to give you and educated opinion. Same goes for the car – if I read a little bit about it (even if I don’t really care about it that much) I would probably be able to hold up the conversation next time you ask me about it.

    Most people will go and look up information about a cool car, but won’t look up similar information about their computers.

    Still, saying that you are running Windows 97 is kindoff like saying you are driving “Sony” because that’s what it says on the built in CD player on your dashboard. :)

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  21. Jess Robinson UNITED KINGDOM Opera Linux says:

    (Hopped over here from twenty-sided)
    I agree, to some degree, but I have a feeling you’re asking the wrong questions.. I bought my car last year, I know it’s make, model, engine size and roughly mpg, everything else I’d have to look in the manual for.. I expect my mum would be the same. I know what specs my computer has, because I care about that stuff, my mum won’t.. She’ll be able to look for the make of her laptop, and know it runs Windows (which is a saner question to ask than “Is it a PC?” btw, since they’re all personal computers.. ) But won’t have a clue, or care, what cpu speed, ram and hard drive it has..

    I do agree that perhaps the average person should care, but computers don’t have big in-your-face dials like the cars fuel guage, showing the amount of hard drive used.. Maybe someone should make such a car-like widget for the desktop, then average folks would be more likely to know. (Also, expanding the space is a lot more complex than re-fueling the car..)

    I could go on.. ;)

    BTW I also wouldnt expect the average non-IT office worker to know or care what their machine is, the helpdesk should be able to look that up ;)


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  22. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Welcome Jess! I hope you stick around and visit more often. :)

    See, I think this is still the attitude issue here. There is no reason why people shouldn’t know these things. When you buy software (ant almost everyone does at some point) you need to check if you have the minimum required specs. When you call tech support you want to be able to understand what they are telling you.

    Hell, when you buy a new computer you should know at least approximately what you are looking for so that you don’t get ripped off.

    Let me bring up this example. On Fridays one of the directors buys bagles for our whole office so in the morning we all head to the kitchen area and stuff our faces while chattering aimlessly about nothing.

    Today the topic was car problems. One guy was talking about how he had to replace sparkplugs in his car. Someone else had a problem with transmission and another person had a faulty fuel gauge. I told a story about how my alternator belt fell off.

    Now neither of these people was a car enthusiast. And if asked, none of us would be able to show you where is the transmission box, or where the sparkplugs go on the car. But we all had a general idea of what these parts do, and were able to have a conversation about them.

    Does the knowledge about the function of a sparkplug has any impact on our driving or general car usage? No, but most people still have an idea of what they are.

    Would we be able to have the same kind of discussion about computer problems? I don’t think so. It’s true that knowing your CPU speed or RAM does not directly impact the way you use your computer. But neither does knowing about sparkplugs, transmission and belts inside of your car.

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  23. Momes INDONESIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Ahaha I’m probably the only person here that knows more about my computer than my car; but that’s because i don’t know anything about cars Lol.

    I guess you are right in the sense about the socially acceptable norms.

    Go to http://www.overclockers.com, you will exactly the opposite; people who are able to recall just about everything regarding their computer, from CPU clock multiplier to RAM latencies.

    If you take the average american jock, knowledge about car stats will be the obvious socially encouraged, “macho” option.

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  24. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Momes – I’m not a car person either. But I do have an idea of how they work, and can have an intelligent conversation about them. And I’m sure so do you. I just wish people knew as much about computers, as I know about cars – which is bare bones minimum – just enough not to sound stupid.

    Btw, I think this is very relevant to the topic.

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  25. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Ahaha I’m probably the only person here that knows more about my computer than my car; but that’s because i don’t know anything about cars Lol.

    Nope – I don’t have a car, and I know a lot about my pc, so I win :mrgreen:

    Even when I get a car I’ll probably know more about my computer

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  26. un4scene UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    You know what’s funny, and you can hate me for saying this but at work I tend to let go of the responsibility of having to know anything about my system. I leave it to the IT folks to know.

    I also first install things here before home to make sure it’s safe… here there is someone on site to fix things you see. “No, I have *no* idea what cause that, Mr/Ms IT Person!” I know, I know, bad me, but I only had to make up that story *once*. Just once. Really. Truly. Maybe twice.

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  27. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Oh no. Don’t lie to the poor IT people. Make friends with them. If you bring them cookies they probably won’t even be able to yell at you for breaking stuff. ;)

    Seriously, if you tell them what you did they might be able to fix the issue in 10 minutes. If you don’t it might take them much longer to figure out what was wrong, and in the end they will still know that you did something.

    In many organizations IT has very strict rules about installing software and will lock the machines up very tightly. In those cases it’s best to let them take care of your system.

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  28. hdw UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Never underestimate the power of cookies. My wife is an incredible cook and baker. After a batch of her cookies I could throw a computer out a window and the IT people wouldn’t say a thing. After her Christmas cookie assortment, I could probably throw an IT person out a window without a complaint. (Possibly including the person who went out the window)

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  29. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:


    Random Person: “OMG! You just fell out the window… Are you ok?”
    IT Dude: “Yeah, whatever… Listen, can you carry me back upstairs before they eat all the cookies? I think my legs are broken…”
    Random Person: “I need to take you to the hospital!”
    IT Dude: “Hospital can wait! Take me upstairs NOW!”
    Random Person: “But…”
    IT Dude: “NOOOW!”

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  30. un4scene UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Ok, cookies make it all better… cookies, cookies, cookies. Must stop by the Safeway before installing new mp3 convering program next week. :)

    If only there was a way to make things all better with cookies when an IT Person isn’t handy.

    They are very liberal about what they let us do to our computers around here, only recently they got mad at people for doing torrent stuff at work… not even I am that silly to try that.

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  31. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Heh… I imagine they would be upset about torrents. If you have 2 or 3 people downloading big files, the whole network slows down to a crawl. :P

    I usually don’t care what people are running as long as they are not breaking stuff or getting infected. Hell, I’ll even recommend torrent clients to them (of course unofficially) as long as they don’t use them at home and not on my network.

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  32. un4scene UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Speak of the devil… uTorrent? Yay or Nay?

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  33. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    What’s the problem with them installing a torrent client at home?
    If its their own machine they can break it any way they please so long as they don’t then bring it to you and expect it fixed

    Also, only 2 users of IE in this whole thing.. I love this site :mrgreen: (no offence to you un4scene/Teague, lots of offence meant to IE though)

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  34. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    un4scene – μTorrent (btw, to make μ in HTML do μ) is pretty good. Small, fast and light. I’d use it if I wasn’t already using Azureus.

    Azureus is a little more bulky and bloated, and requires Java, but I like it. I would recommend μTorrent if you don’t want to deal with Java.

    Btw, Firefox > IE! You should definitely switch to Firefox, Flock or Opera. Anything but IE. You might like Flock – it kinda integrates blogging, and all the cool Web 2.0 things into the browser experience.

    Matt` – I assume that people download torrents at work, because:

    1. their workplace might have T3 or FIOS which is much better than their crappy residential DSL service

    2. their computer is old and doesn’t have a DVD burner or enough space on the hard drive to store the whole season of 24, Lost or whatever they are downloading

    3. they can’t download at home because they share the network with bunch of roommates who don’t like when torrent clogs their bandwidth

    4. the don’t have their own computer at home, but share one with other people

    These are just the 4 things of the top of my head, but I’m sure the workplace downloaders come up with many more excuses. :)

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  35. un4scene UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Hi Matt, no offense taken. That post was from work and they make us use IE there.

    Luke, I use Firefox at home, no worries on that. :) I’m going to stick with μTorrent for a bit then since you give it a thumbs up. Wav tried to help me install Azureus a little while ago but the Java was wigging out my system.

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  36. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’m a Java developer so every machine I own usually has both the Java runtime (JRE), as well as the developer tools (JSDK). That’s one of the reasons I like Azureus. It’s written in the language I know and love. :)

    But yes, I think μTorrent is a decent choice.

    I really recommend using Peer Guardian when you download. You just need to have it running in your taskbar when you download. It will automatically try to block IP addresses that are known to belong to the RIAA, MPAA and other people who like to sue you. No one knows how effective it really is, but every little bit of precaution helps.

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  37. un4scene UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I meant to install that a while back ago and completely forgot about it, thanks for the link! I’ll get to that with the quickness. :) You are right, better safe than sorry.

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  38. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Yep, my cow-orkers son got busted for downloading something he found at Torrentspy. This kinda scared me a little bit because I get stuff from there all the time.

    Fortunately they only got a warning letter from the ISP. They didn’t give their info to the RIAA/MPAA/whatever so I guess they got lucky.

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